SVG Sit-Down: SendtoNews’ Mike John-Baptiste on the Rise of Digital-Video Syndication

SendtoNews is a sports-video-highlights–syndication company that has become increasingly prominent in digital sports production, thanks in part to its high-profile partnerships (which range from the MLB, NFL, NBA to the PGA Tour and LPGA Tour) and its finely tuned art of finding the right audiences.


JB John-Baptiste

In 2015, the company pulled in approximately 1 billion views through its SendtoNews network globally, with more than 45,000 sports videos running on its proprietary platform.

The goal is to work with clients to help get their content in front of audiences by bringing it to them on such places as the Website or mobile site of their favorite local newspaper.

SVG got the chance to chat with Mike John-Baptiste (everyone calls him JB), EVP, content and media programming, to discuss the company’s business model, syndication’s unique position in online sports, and how content creators can fine-tune their products to reach the greatest number of viewers.

SendtoNews has been able to maintain relationships with major sports leagues in the U.S. despite how “digital” these leagues have already become on their own. How have you been able to retain a hold on this path of distribution?
It has a lot to do with these leagues’ embracing syndication. It’s not just syndication for the sake of syndication. It’s done with a purpose and done right. When I say “done right,” the league’s concerns are “Where is my content ending up?” “What is that viewing experience, and is it holding up to the standard of my brand?” “Is this type of distribution cannibalizing my business on my owned-and-operated properties?”

The other big thing that’s going on in the industry is, with the fan interest in video and dollars moving from traditional TV into digital, there’s more opportunity than there is space on these properties’ owned sites. So there’s a demand-and-supply gap that SendtoNews has been able to step in and solve for them. The term a lot of people in the industry use for us is audience extension. So, as a league, they recognize that it’s not every fan’s behavior to show up at your front door [your own Website or app]. They are going to experience content consumption in the most convenient way possible for them, and over 50% of sports fans end up on a news site reading up on their local team. So this is a channel the leagues know they need to be a part of, and it’s not a channel that they can efficiently get to themselves.

What is the workflow here? Are the leagues sending you highlights and completed packages? Are you doing any editing?
It’s all of the above, and it really depends on the resources of the league. Major partners, like the NBA and MLB, have tremendous resources to produce content, so we take what we get. What we do, though, is less focused on the frontend and the capture side and more on the programming side on the backend.

Within our internal team, we do a lot of the decision-making around what content goes where and what ultimately runs through our publisher network. So, when you see our video player on SFGate, which is the San Francisco Chronicle’s Website, in the NBA section, we are determining the order of those videos. What we are solving for and what we are balancing is that we know that reader has a limited amount of time. Does that video fit in the context of the article that that beat reporter has written about that game or player? We do a lot of that internally to take a lot of the burden off the publisher.

This is easy to envision in a desktop format, but, if you are working with a client that has a mobile app or a mobile Web interface, how does your player fit within that ecosystem?
In 95% of cases, we fit in well. Honestly, I think that’s going to be more of the trend in 2017 and 2018. I think a lot of the publishers are still fine-tuning their mobile-app experience and their CMS [content-management system] for mobile-vs.-desktop is different. So it’s really on them. Our video player itself is mobile-responsive, and we have the rights to distribute in a mobile experience both through browsers and through applications. So rights-wise, we can do it, and we always encourage our sports-property partners to enable all of those experiences and let us handle the hard work of doing the integration on the backend.

What are some lessons that you have learned and are looking to pass on to your content-creating clients?
First is around content creation. It may be obvious, but we haven’t seen it actually applied as much of a strategy. We need to start thinking about content creation for different audiences. It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, and the content owner has to decide how they balance resources  to produce that content and address different audiences on different platforms. SendtoNews can certainly be, at a minimum, a starting point for an understanding of what the general sporting-news interest is, how they like to receive content, what kind of content works best in that environment, and how to be successful.

As for the broadcasters and networks, one of the trends we are seeing in 2016, [which] I don’t believe was the case a couple of years ago, is their interest in embracing syndication. They had a view that they are the destination and the syndication of the content that’s been produced by them or for them. They are having the same challenges, though, that the sports properties are having, which is TV dollars going from traditional TV to digital and, frankly, not having a big enough audience showing up to their own Website to capture all of that opportunity. So we are now seeing a trend where many of those broadcasters are reaching out to companies like us to get to their audience when they are not in front of a TV, when they are reading the equivalent of their newspaper online.

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